After the sumptuous and organic Art Nouveau and Neo-Gothic overdose in Porto’s Café Majestic and Lello Bookstore, it was almost a culture shock coming to the Douro Royal Valley Hotel & Spa. Like an addict coming off a high, I kept looking for more of my fix…more art, more decoration, more details, more of everything I had been consuming in huge quantities throughout the past two weeks. But that is not what the Douro Royal Valley Hotel is all about.
Minimalist to the point of almost appearing stark, there is nothing superfluous or fussy about this hotel, located 75km upriver from Porto in the Douro River Valley. White on the outside, white on the inside and white in almost all of its décor, this hotel is meant to be an escape for its guests, and one that allows them to leave all of the chaos and stress of the city and the world of busy-ness behind. Even the carefully planted gardens on their expansive terraces have a zen aesthetic to them.
Design Inspiration for the Douro Royal Valley Hotel
Rui Castro, the architect who designed the hotel, was clearly inspired by Portugal’s famous architect, Siza Vieira, (aka Alvaro Siza) with whom he collaborated on previous projects, and whose works include long, rectilinear white buildings (we saw some of Siza’s work in the 1998 Parque Expo Portuguese Pavillion in Lisbon.)
Castro also wanted to reflect the design of the luxury river boats that cruise upriver past the hotel, with their outward-facing suites and all-white exteriors.
Even though the Douro Royal Valley Hotel does not try to blend in with the lush surroundings of the valley or the green river flowing through it, the entire focus of the hotel is on that impressive view: floor-to-ceiling glass dominates every space, whether you are in the dining room, the bar, the spa, or any of the 70 guest rooms – every one of which faces the river. Everything here is designed to take your eyes out to the beauty outside. Even the green roof on the upper terrace and the enormous infinity pool lead your eye out to the river and the green hills opposite the hotel.
I’m reminded a little of Frank Lloyd Wright’s concept for the Fallingwater home he built in Pennsylvania, where nature was his focus as well, and every room was designed to direct your eyes outward past the low, wide terraces to the trees and the forest beyond.
I also can’t help but think of Newfoundland’s Fogo Island Inn – a white box on sticks perched on a rock with spectacular views out over the North Atlantic. (there was even a coincidental similarity to the Fogo Inn’s design mirrored in the floor lamps in the Douro Hotel’s dining room!)
Our room at the Royal Douro Valley was spacious and calming, with tasteful furniture, luxe linens and all the creature comforts we needed, without any of the unnecessary fluff (except of course the white fluffy robes – a necessity for any luxury property!)
This modernist concept of efficiency-as-luxury continues in the Hotel’s Royal Spa, with each treatment room reflecting the natural elements as well, using different lighting and décor to suggest their Earth, Fire, Air and Water themes. Nothing here is meant to distract from the pursuit of relaxation.
Thankfully this absence of excess extended to the dining experience at the Douro Royal Valley, as well. After having been fed to the point of discomfort at so many restaurants with portions that were overwhelming, the chef here presented delicious food in portions that allowed us to sample more of the region’s signature flavours without feeling uncomfortable. Our leek soup was as velvety smooth as a velouté but lighter, and presented beautifully as our waiter poured the liquid into my bowl, surrounding a lightly battered shrimp. Both flavours complemented each other and were subtle and fresh. My sea bass which followed was perfectly cooked, with in-season asparagus that was tender-crisp and delicious.
And the reasonable portions meant I could indulge in the chocolate mousse for dessert, which was decadent without being too sweet. (The staff were very accommodating, since I actually requested the mousse from the children’s menu – and the chef gave it a much more ‘grownup’ presentation, right down to the porcelain ‘cushion’ on which it was served!)
Certainly, the Douro’s architectural style and nod to Siza Vieira is not everyone’s cup of tea, or what they might envision as 5-star luxury, but waking up in bed and looking through the enormous window of our room, I watched as the sun began to illuminate the distant shore reflected in the still waters of the river. Opening the door to our balcony I could hear the sound of a church bell in a nearby village chiming a melody before sounding seven strikes to identify the hour. Roosters crowing was the only other sound to disturb the peace.
It was at this moment that the idea behind this Hotel’s distinctly modern interpretation of ‘unplugging’ started to make more and more sense: perhaps in today’s world of always being on, the Douro Royal Valley Hotel & Spa understands that less really IS more.
Special thanks to the Douro Royal Valley Hotel & Spa who provided accommodation during our stay. (and a much-needed rest!)
TIP: The hotel welcomes children, but in my opinion this is a decidedly grownup destination, and most of the activities available cater to that: spa treatments, river cruises, vineyard wine tastings, fine dining. And luckily for those of us over 50, the Douro Royal Valley Hotel & Spa also offers a discount with several ‘Golden Age’ packages available so that we can take advantage of everything the region offers.